The 10 Greatest Responses Found in Historical Censuses

Australian census 2021

August 10 is the day we’ve all been waiting for — it’s census night!

The census is conducted by The Australian Bureau of Statistics once every five years and this year, 2021, still fails to incorporate questions on sexuality despite years of campaigning from queer activists.

The census is compulsory for all Australian citizens and permanent residents and failure to complete it can land you in some pretty hot water.

The census is not some arbitrary headcount undertaken by the government every half a decade. The information collected is an integral part of preserving history as well as defining our countries collective identity. The earliest censuses date as far back as 3800 BC, and the details collected provide a fascinating window into the lives of people at a specific point in the past, acting as a virtual time machine. 

In addition to the official data that historic census records show, if you look hard enough, you can find people’s wit and personalities preserved in ink. Early Australian census data was sadly destroyed, but Ancestry.com.au has trawled through early American and UK censuses to uncover these 10 surprising finds hidden in historic census records. 

Does What She Wants

In typical fatherly fashion, Catherine Cudney’s dad stated that the 15-year-old “does as she pleases” as her occupation in the 1880 US Census.

The OG Sheltering in Place

Australian census

19-Year-Old Catherine Maud Lovell must not have wanted to go to work the day her mother filled in the Census survey, as she wrote in the 1911 UK Census that her daughter was “hiding at home” for her occupation. Highly relatable in 2021.

You Can’t Keep a Good Suffragist Down

Australian censusMother Clara and her 23-year old NSW-born, daughter Jean, both listed as ‘suffragists’ as their profession in the 1911 UK census. Both Clara and Jean were members of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association, dedicated to the enfranchisement of women and to support the fellow women.

The Terrible Twos

australian censusWidowed Grandmother and head of the house, Annie Costa, had a very strong opinion when it came to sharing her two year old granddaughter’s occupation, recording it as “annoying other people”.

Taking Seasonal Names Too Far

Australian census 2021
Who would name their daughter Halloween? According to the 1920 (and 1930) US census, this is indeed something parents John and Ollie Hildebrand of Freeborn Township, Missouri, did. According to Ancestry’s count of Halloweens, Mrs. Waltrip was, in fact, only one of more than 40 ‘Halloweens’ listed in the 1940 US Census. Since the census doesn’t record birth dates, there is no way of knowing if all the Halloweens were born on October 31.

A Kid’s Gotta Work

Australian census 2021

At only five years old, little Roger was officially part of the family’s household duties. His occupation? “Watch dog, looking after house.” – an important role entrusted to this young Airedale Terrier. The head of the family also wrote “Incidentally, we have an Airedale Terrier. Do not know whether particulars are required, but in case you want them here they are!”

Boycotting the Census

Australian census
“No vote, no information about my household.” This is the census entry of Rosina Mary Pott, loyal suffragette and friend of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement. Rosina did not hold back in her boycott of the census.

On Her Majesties Not So Secret Service

Australian census 2021

Either this person had the most interesting job in the world, or they had a good sense of humour. Assuming their occupation was in fact part of the “secret service” from the Detective Agency Industry, they sort of gave the game away with this one.

The Tiger King’s Ancestors?

Australian census 2021Fred Wombwell was a 34-year old Lion Tamer. He and his wife were part of a travelling zoo, with various exotic animal attendants. The list goes on and on with fascinating occupations like Leopard and Monkey Attendant and an Elephant Trainer.

The Eyes Have It

Australian census 2021

Someone in the Figg family household must have either been bored or trying to figure out the perfect eyebrow shape. Along with answering the questions, this mysterious person doodled two eyes on their 1911 UK Census survey.

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